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Shockwaves were sent through the world when in 1984 an unprecedented industrial disaster occurred in Bhopal, India. Labeled the Union Carbide Industrial disaster, it proved fatal in the span of one night as the methyl isocyanate used to produce pesticides were accidentally released into the surrounding area, killing thousands of people and severely affecting over 150,000 individuals’ long-term health (Engel & Martin, 2006, p. 475). The immense devastation in such a short period brought attention to the dangers of unsupervised industrial work and called out the lack of safety measurements during the production of toxic chemical substances. While the India of the eighties was considered to be a developing nation, this did not prevent the United States from observing the effects of the catastrophe on the country and marshaling legislation and government resources to counteract similar future incidents. One of the results of the Union Carbide Industrial disaster was the enactment of a policy reform to the original Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, which fostered accountability among companies who create toxic waste in the environment and deals severe penalties to abandoned obligations for cleanup (Cooper, 1999, p. 1450-1451). The resulting policy reform was the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, that used “local government first responders and members of the public in assessing the degree of threat posed to their community by the existence of hazardous and toxic substances” (Burton, 2008, p. 14) created by industries and companies within localities or states.
One of the most relevant lessons learned from industrial incidents like the Union Carbide Industrial disaster is that private and public corporations must be held responsible for their impacts on the environment and the communities they are a part of through legislative means. While discussion of ethical and social responsibility is positive, it does not have the impact on businesses needed to truly curtail dangerous practices or encourage mitigation and preparedness planning in daily practice. Emergency management in this regards comes down to policymaking, and with each new disaster, new laws are ordered to fill in the gaps that previously went unnoticed. Tangentially, policymakers must also recognize that these policies could be viewed with animosity from a variety of stakeholders, particularly as “mitigation efforts often have to compete with the far more alluring concerns of economic growth and development on the local level” (Sylves, 2015, p. 80).
Emergency management policy should follow these developments by understanding the relationship between stakeholders and legislation to improve the working relationship between the government, communities, and businesses. While both EPCRA and CERCLA were steps towards developing industrial and developmental safety in the United States, risk assessment and hazard management should be a continuous process followed with repetitive check-ups, realignments, and negotiations with all parties involved. Federal law and policy are important, but seeking out local and state policymakers to improve the safety and preparedness of their communities will help all members accept new changes and objectives.
Burton, L. (2008). The constitutional roots of all-hazards policy, management, and law. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 5(1), 1-28. Retrieved from http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jhsem
Cooper, A. (1999). Understanding causation and threshold of release in CERCLA liability: The difference between single- and multi-polluter contexts. Vanderbilt Law Review, 52(2), 1449-1478. Retrieved from https://www.vanderbiltlawreview.org/
Engel, S. & Martin, B. (2006). Union Carbide and James Hardie: Lessons in politics and power. Global Society, 20(4), 475-490. doi:10.1080/13600820600929838
Sylves, R. (2015). Disaster policy and politics: Emergency management and homeland security (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press.